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Smith Ford: Deep Roots in Community Support a Century of Success 



Rob Treadway

Robert Treadway

Membership Communications & Marketing Manager

What started as a general store selling farm implements has become a mainstay auto retail business in the Conway, Ark., area for the past 107 years. 

Samuel Gallatin “S.G.” Smith was born in North Carolina in 1864. After the Civil War, his family moved to the farming community of Tulip, Ark. Cotton was king in that era, and that’s how the family made a living. 

But S.G. had an entrepreneurial spirit. Besides being a farmer, he was a banker, cotton broker, theater owner and, eventually, general store owner. Around 1916, he began selling new-fangled “horseless carriages” at his store, and they took off. This was the birth of Smith Auto Company—eventually just Smith Ford—the oldest automobile dealership in Arkansas.

“A lot of businesses started before the Depression didn’t make it,” says current Smith Ford President S.T. “Ted” Smith III, S.G.’s great-grandson. “S.G.’s entrepreneurship, optimistic demeanor and sense of humor are what helped the family make it through.” These familial traits, Ted says, have also sustained the business through the Great Depression, two world wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars, several recessions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally located in downtown Conway on Markham Street, the dealership moved a few blocks away to Front Street in the late 1920s, where it stayed for more than 40 years. Ted remembers that the Front Street location had gas pumps in front of it and employees taught people how to drive these new machines. In the 1970s, the dealership moved to bustling Highway 64, a main entryway into the city on the east side of town.

The store also sold Edsels in the late 1950s during that model’s short existence. That same decade, the business picked up the Mercury line and sold their models until the make was discontinued in 2011.

Community Involvement: A Family Tradition

The dealership has always been one of the local community’s most loyal partners.

Cate Ketcheside-McConnell, Ted’s niece and Smith Ford’s director of operations, represents the fifth generation of her family to serve in the Conway Area Chambers of Commerce, a lineage that includes Cate’s great-grandfather, S.T. Smith Sr.; grandfather S.T. “Ros” Smith Jr.; and her father, Kenne Ketcheside.

“From the very start, our family understood the responsibility of service to our community, and that our success is linked to the city’s progress,” she says.

S.G.’s wife, Ellen, led efforts to help neighbors in need, originally focusing on providing local children with food, clothes and school supplies. Her efforts were so appreciated by the community that they later named a local elementary school in her honor. She was also one of the original members of the board of directors of what has become the Conway Regional Health System. And in 1921, Ellen made history when she was elected to the Conway Public School Board, making her the first woman in the state elected to public office.

“She was a strong woman in an era when strong women were not suffered gladly,” remembers Bob Meriwether, a former dean of students at nearby Hendrix College. 

Another family member active in the community was S.T. Smith, who, strangely enough, was thought to have been killed in World War I. However, like Mark Twain, reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. After he suddenly returned home to a grateful family, S.T. took over the family business in addition to becoming chamber of commerce chairman, board member of the Conway Corporation and a founder of the Conway Development Corporation and Conway Rotary Club.

Cate’s grandfather, “Ros,” continued the corporate stewardship as a founding member of the Faulkner Community Fund, which became the United Way of Central Arkansas, and through his work on the Conway Development Corporation board.

The Smiths and Conway: Growing Together

The Smith family has made it a point to be involved with Conway’s continued plans for economic development. Cate recalls hearing her grandfather’s many stories about Conway’s growth.

“Many of his stories included pulling up to a two-way stop and knowing everyone at the intersection,” she says. “But his stories also told of the trajectory of Conway as those two-way stops turned into four-way stops and turned into stoplights and are now roundabouts.”

At the same time, in return for the Smith family’s civic leadership Conway has been good to the family business. And it truly is a family business, Cate says, citing the current roles of her brother, Sam Ketcheside, as the pre-owned manager; her uncle, Ted Smith, as president; and her parents, Kenne and Cathy Ketcheside, as, respectively, general manager and comptroller.

“Ford has been very good to our family, and we are thankful to the Conway community for allowing us to continue to work and serve them for over 107 years,” Ted says. “We’ve sold everything from the Model T to the Model e, and we look forward to the next 100 years of selling Fords.”

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